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7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

For most of us, the experience of studying for an exam can be captured in one word: panic. You’ve got 18 hours, exhausted, and sitting there staring at an equations sheet full of gibberish. Whyyy? Why didn’t I start earlier?

Believe it or not, there are forces acting against you, pulling you away from starting early enough so that you can comfortably learn new material. Here are 7 of the most insidious reasons why you don’t start early, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re anticipating hard work

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    Procrastination is generally viewed as this guilt-ridden character defect shared almost universally by all students. The problem is, this is exactly what we should expect to happen from an evolutionary perspective.

    Humans are known to be cognitive misers: we conserve mental resources whenever possible, especially when facing tasks not viewed as “essential to our survival.”

    In other words, we put off studying until the last minute because (1) we know the work is hard and will require a lot of mental energy, and (2) until there’s the threat of actually failing the exam (and therefore potentially being humiliated publicly) we’re not in enough emotional pain to motivate us to start studying.

    Additionally, when your brain anticipates multiple outcomes that are all viewed as “painful” (the pain of studying vs. the pain of failing out of college) you become immobilized, unable to choose the lesser of two evils, and push off the work even further.

    Schedule in time for yourself first and then fill in the gaps with study time.

    As Niel Fiore discusses in bestselling classic, The Now Habit, part of the reason you procrastinate is because you see no end in site.

    Think of the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. In the first case you’re able to give maximum effort because you can see the finish line and know it will be over soon. The marathon runner is not so lucky. They know there’s a long road ahead filled with pain and exhaustion, and subconsciously conserve their effort to ensure they can make it through all 26.2 miles.

    This is all to say, if you know you get to go hang out in your buddy’s dorm room and goof off for an hour after you study, you’re much more likely to want to invest that energy.

    As a side benefit, you end up taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Because your work expands to fill the time allotted, by scheduling less time for studying, you actually become more productive and focused.

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    2. You’re sleep deprived

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      Who in college isn’t pounding the caffeine?

      Students who force themselves through weeks upon weeks of 4-6 hour sleep nights, are significantly deteriorating two aspects of their mental performance critical to studying for exams: motivation and vigilance.

      Studies show that poor sleep negatively impacts motivation. But really, no one needs a study to tell them how much worse your outlook on life is when you’re low on sleep.

      And vigilance, the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time, is also significantly reduced during a period of either acute (staying up all night studying), or chronic (cutting sleep short for multiple days) sleep deprivation.

      Set yourself an end-of-the-day alarm.

      Yes, studying more consistently for shorter chunks will allow you to spread it over a longer period of time; therefore, preventing the need to deprive yourself of sleep just to get your coursework done. But really, it’s a psychological issue.

      There are a million things we’d rather stay up and do, than go right to bed after a full day of classes, only to have to get up and do the same thing over again. This is a chicken/egg problem: if I don’t get sleep I procrastinate studying, but if I go to bed I’ll just have to get up and study. Again, lose-lose. We need to break the cycle.

      Set yourself an alarm. But not in the morning. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before when you should get to sleep and allow yourself to sleep for a full 8 hours. If you adhere to that you’ll be surprised how many hours of free time seem to materialize.

      Study time + free time + sleep = happy and successful students.

      3. You have a false sense of security

      Photo credit: funnfun.in

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        You may think you’re being a diligent student, sitting there in the lecture, listening intently, copying down page after page of notes from the professor. You might even be following along and raise your hand here and there. But there’s a big difference between feeling like you understand something, and actually being able to reproduce it on a test.

        This is what we call passive learning, and it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn new material, without actually being able to retain any of it.

        Quiz yourself.

        Don’t be fooled by your professor’s overly logical explanations. This dude already knows the material, so it’s easy for him to explain it in a way that others find understandable. The real challenge is whether or not you can do the same.

        If you’re wondering if you actually understand something, quiz yourself. Or better yet, explain it to someone (or yourself, but be warned: people tend to stare).

        As Einstein liked to say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

        By routinely quizzing yourself, you’ll get a dose of reality of whether you actually know the material or not, instead of what most students do: assume they know it until the night before the test, when they proceed to freak out because they can’t do any of the practice problems.

        4. Not all study time is created equal

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          Fact: seven hours of studying over 7 days is much more effective (more learning per time spent) for understanding new material than 7 hours of studying in one chunk. This is especially true for technical courses with new jargon you have to internalize.

          Chunk your study time.

          The brain uses a ton of energy (20% of our resting metabolic rate), and there’s only so much you can expend per day. To maximize your retention of new material, you want to take advantage of both active learning and recovery.

          Because the brain consolidates new neural pathways during sleep, particularly during REM sleep, the more sleep cycles you intersperse between your study hours, the more likely it is that you will retain the material and be able to whip it out on test day.

          This also allows you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Instead of having to constantly review your material to keep it in the forefront of your memory, you can follow a cycle of ever-increasing time intervals between review sessions (the “forgetting curve”), decreasing the overall amount of time needed to re-learn material you might have forgotten from the beginning of the semester when the final rolls around.

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          5. The planning fallacy

          Humans systematically overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term, and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term.

          Ironically (and sadly), we only have this problem evaluating our own tasks – providing a pretty accurate picture of how long things will take when evaluating someone else’s situation objectively.

          “Dude I’ve got this Calc final covered. Just need a couple days before to go over my notes. But you’re screwed for your Orgo class – better head to the library now or you’re never gonna pass.”

          Use the 50% rule.

          Estimate as conservatively as you can, how much time it’s going to take to study for your exam, assuming you start early and work consistently.

          Done?

          Okay. Now add 50% to that estimate.

          This will give you a more accurate picture of how much time you really need to allocate to starting studying.

          6. You think you have more study time than you do

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            Pull up your Sunday schedule. What do you see?

            Oh looks like I’ve got a big chunk of free time from 4pm to 10pm. Perfect, I’ll just squeeze in 5 or 6 hours of studying and then call it a night.

            Try again. It’s more like 2-3 hours.

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            This is another type of planning mistake: overestimating how much productive time we can extract from any given period.

            Things we tend to forget: we need to eat; we need to sleep; there will be interruptions (yea right like you’re actually going to shut off your phone).

            But another thing we fail to account for: the body goes through 90-120 minute activity cycles (called the Ultradian Rhythm). So even though you may be sitting there, highlighting your textbook for 3 hours straight, you really only have the ability to absorb material for 1.5 to 2 hours before you need a period of rest.

            Cut your estimated hours in half.

            If you think you have 8 hours on Sunday after the game to study, forget it. You actually have 4 or less when you take out time for eating, breaks, and normal daily activities.

            7. You can’t get motivated or focused

            A lot of us tend to sit around and wait…

            Waiting for the wave of motivation to strike us to finally get started on the homework assignment due in 24 hours, or studying for the midterm.

            Here’s the problem: motivation comes and goes, but the demands of school and learning and everyday life don’t. And if you’re relying on your motivation to keep you focused, everything you’re doing is going to be in a perpetual state of lateness and last-minute-ness, because there’s never enough motivation to go around.

            Focus on the process, with the end in mind.

            Why are you in school? Why do you want a degree? Get clear on exactly what your motivations are.

            But thinking about the future is not enough. That vision of the future that drives your emotional intensity needs to be linked to your daily activities. (e.g. “Each day I study for Calculus brings me one step closer to being a doctor and making a difference in people’s lives.”)

            What is the one set of activities each day that will virtually guarantee success in your coursework?

            And what can you do to organize your day, set up incentives, quit things that don’t matter, etc. to virtually guarantee you will do that one set of activities day in and day out, despite motivation?

            Featured photo credit: UBC Learning Commons via flickr.com

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            Published on January 16, 2019

            How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

            How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

            We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

            You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

            You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

            That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

            Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

            1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

            Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

            We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

            To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

            At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

            The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

            2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

            Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

            The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

            In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

            It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

            It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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            So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

            • Are you a great strategist?
            • Are you an effective planner?
            • Is Project Management your strength?
            • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
            • Are you the ideas person?
            • Is Implementation your strength?

            Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

            3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

            One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

            Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

            Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

            Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

            4. Take Time for Planning

            “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

            One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

            You can take the time to think about:

            • What’s the purpose of the project?
            • How Important is it?
            • When does it need to be delivered by?
            • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
            • What are the KPIs?
            • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
            • Who is working on this project?
            • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
            • What tolerances can I add in?
            • What are the review stages?
            • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

            Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

            5. Focus on Priorities

            Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

            Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

            One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

            1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
            2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
            3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
            4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

            James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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              The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

              If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

              If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

              6. Take Time Out

              To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

              If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

              Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

              In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

              Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

              7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

              Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

              I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

              Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

              If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

              8. Stop Multitasking

              Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

              So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

              When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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              If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

              9. Work in Blocks of Time

              To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

              I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

              Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

              Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

              Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

              Then take another 10-minute break.

              Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

              By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

              10. Get Rid of Distractions

              Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

              “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

              Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

              If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

              11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

              You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

              Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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              Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

              12. Take a Time Audit

              Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

              Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

              You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

              Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

              Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

              At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

              If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

              13. Protect Your Confidence

              It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

              When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

              Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

              When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

              Final Words

              A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

              The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

              If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

              Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

              Reference

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